Lack of Access to Tuna Data Frustrates Scientists

Lack of Access to Tuna Data Frustrates Scientists

Yellowfin Tuna can tip the scales at 200 kilograms and can live over eight years. (Photo by Gregg Yan/WWF Philippines)

Yellowfin Tuna can tip the scales at 200 kilograms and can live over eight years.
(Photo by Gregg Yan/WWF Philippines)

It has been observed that the scientific assessment of tunas in the western and central Pacific Ocean (WCPO) continues to be hampered by some fishing states not making data available to scientists.

This was the consensus during a meeting last month of over 20 stock assessment scientists from the Asia–Pacific region.

Dr. Shelton Harley, head of the Stock Assessment and Modelling team within the Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC) Oceanic Fisheries Programme (OFP), noted that ‘the most frustrating aspect is that the data have been collected and are just sitting on computers in countries and not contributing to the efforts to determine the health and safe harvest levels for the largest tuna resource in the world.’

The purpose of the annual meeting, hosted by SPC, is to review progress in assessing the status of Bigeye, Skipjack, and Yellowfin tunas in the WCPO. This year is critical as it will be the first time in three years that these tunas are being assessed. This is also the first assessment for Bigeye tuna since the independent review of the previous assessment conducted in 2012. Bigeye tuna is the species whose health has been of most concern in recent years, with rising catches associated with purse-seine fishing around fish aggregating devices.

The independent review – funded by the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC) – stressed the importance of scientists having access to detailed operational-level data from the fisheries. Despite this, there has been very little movement from those fishing states that hold the data. In early 2014 three scientists from Taiwan came to SPC headquarters in New Caledonia and brought with them important data on Taiwanese fishing. Some very useful analyses were conducted, but after two weeks the scientists went home with the data. While this was a useful first step, it means that follow-up analyses that might be required as the assessments develop and as other data are received cannot be undertaken. Nevertheless, Dr. Harley expressed appreciation to the Taiwan fisheries administration for this useful first step, and encouraged other major fishing countries to support the stock assessments by allowing scientists access to these data.

On a more positive note, Dr. Harley noted that the upcoming assessments would be drawing heavily on the results from the Pacific Tuna Tagging Programme.

Almost 400,000 tunas have been tagged since 2006, with over 70,000 fish recaptured. This programme will be important in better understanding the rate of fishing and the connectivity of tuna across the WCPO.

The completed stock assessments will be presented to the 10th Regular Session of the WCPFC Scientific Committee happening in Majuro, Marshall Island, from 6-14 August 2014. View story source.

The tuna tagging experiments conducted by SPC’s OFP are acknowledged to be among the most comprehensive in the world and it recently achieved yet another milestone.

After four decades of involvement in Pacific Island tuna fisheries, Dr. Antony Lewis recently achieved the mark of 100,000 tuna tagged by an individual, which is a world record unlikely ever to be surpassed.

The milestone was achieved during a recent tagging cruise in Papua New Guinea (PNG) waters operating under the Pacific Tuna Tagging Project (PTTP) in collaboration with the PNG National Fisheries Authority. Dr. Lewis started tagging tuna in the early 1970s, but it was during the SPC’s Skipjack Survey and Assessment Programme (SSAP) of the late 1970s when the numbers of tagged tuna started to accumulate.

In the late 1980s and early 1990s, as head of the OFP, Dr. Lewis was responsible for the Regional Tuna Tagging Project and was recruited as technical advisor for the more recent PTTP, which started in 2006.

(Story courtesy of SPC-OFP)

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